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Sri Lanka: emergency response converted into long-term support

08-03-2005 Feature

With the emergency phase of the tsunami response over, the ICRC and the rest of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement are gradually shifting their activities towards longer-term support for communities.

The white tents marked with Red Crosses stand in a field next to the main road in Komari, eastern Sri Lanka. This is a basic health unit set up by a Finnish Red Cross Emergency Response Unit to serve the local area including two camps sheltering close to five thousand displaced people.

©ICRC/V. Miranda ref. lk-e-00136 
  Komari, Finnish Red Cross field hospital. Nurses checking medicines lists.    
    The Finnish Red Cross team arrived on January 1, and were able to open the clinic to the general population four days later. The clinic has ten beds to accommodate inpatient s and during the first few weeks, it provided consultations for over 100 out patients per day.

After carrying out a survey of the region, the Finnish team opened two satellite clinics in the nearby camps to bring their services closer to the people. Locally run clinics and dispensaries were among the buildings damaged by the tsunami and a shortage of medical personnel exacerbated the situation. 

" On February 1, the department of health was able to reopen a temporary health clinic staffed by a local doctor near one of our satellite clinics, " explains Dr. Johannes Schraknepper of the Finnish Red Cross. " So we closed our satellite and instead provided support and assistance to the clinic. Our purpose is to help not to compete. "

Most of the cases they deal with are common illnesses such as respiratory infections and diarrhoea, but some cases are due to deprivation caused by the tsunami.

" We saw one young boy whose feet were cracked and blistered, " says Dr. Schraknepper.

" The problem was that he had no shoes. We treated his feet and told his mother to buy shoes for him. We reimbursed her afterwards for the shoes. "

As local health services are re-established, the need for the Finnish basic health unit is decreasing. " We haven't set a closing date yet, " says the team leader Heikki Estola, " but when we do shut down, we will be leaving most of our material and equipment behind. "

" Some material such as medications, beds and stretchers will be given to the local health clinic, while other material will go to the Sri Lankan Red Cross as part of their emergency stocks. The final allocation will depend on their capacity to integrate the material usefully into their systems, " he explains.

Further south along the main road in Komari, blue water bladders and a network of high pressure hoses are set up in a field. This is the German Red Cross Emergency Response Specialized Water Production Unit. The unit, which went into operation on January 10, produces up to 140,000 cubic metres of water per day and if required, could produce up to 300,000 cubic metres.

©ICRC/J. Björgvinsson ref. lk-e-00108 
  Komari. Setting up a water treatment plant for Tsunami victims.    

Water is taken from a nearby creek. It is treated, filtered and chlorinated to European standards and finally stored in bladders. Four tanker trucks, or bowsers as they are called in Sri Lanka, then transport the water to distribution points serving close to 20,000 people along a 23-kilometre stretch of the coastal area.

The Red Cross has positioned ten 10,000 litre tanks in the area and there are an additional 150 one thousand litre tanks in the area. " That's the official system, " explains German Red Cross water specialist Michael Czeswinki, " but whenever we see a water tank, we just stop and fill it. "

" We don't know how long we will be here, " says Czeswinki. " When the wells have been cleaned in the villages and the salinity has dropped because of rain, the villagers will be able to provide their own water. But as long as there are transit camps, additional water will be required. "

The water production facility is run by three German Red Cross staff and 10 people from the Sri Lankan Red Cross who are being trained to operate the system after the departure of the German specialists.

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